Monday, July 1, 2019

A Conversation with Chloe Lowery

Vocalist Chloe Lowery has a commanding, exquisitely powerful soprano voice. The kind of voice that you don't easily forget after hearing her sing a song or two. She signed her first major record contract when she was twelve years old, sang lead for Big Brother and the Holding Company, but first hit the public eye in a big way when she teamed up with Yanni in 1989 for his Voices album and tour. Since then, she has been a fixture in the touring productions of both Rocktopia and Trans-Siberian Orchestra and can often be found as a guest soloist with symphonies around the USA. She has been equally at home performing classics and covers along side Classical Crossover Vocalist Chris Pinella or rocking out with Whitesnake guitarist Joel Hoekstra.  For the last several years, she also fronted the rock band Chameleon, releasing several EPs and becoming a fixture in the New York City music scene. But it took a tumultuous relationship change with a long-time musical partner that finally propelled her into creating an album that she can call her own, one that is "Just Chloe".  We got together in Manhattan to discuss her new solo album, "The In-Between".

Dan Roth:  You describe it in the liner notes of your new CD, but for anyone that has not yet gotten this album, what is “The In-Between”?

Chloe Lowery:  For a long time, this was a nameless record.  I was even contemplating calling it "Chloe" or "Just Chloe".  There really wasn't a lyric that really embodied the whole thing, until I wrote "The Words You Wanted.  I took the phrase from part of the chorus, "And I’ll always love you, But somehow I lost me while I was busy holding onto you, And somewhere in this in-between...".  For me, "The In-Between" is where I wrote this record. I was not at a peak high in my life, I was somewhere in this in-between where all of this change that was happening, personally, professionally, life and everything.  It just made sense that that is what the record was.

DR:  Were there any particular musicians or voices that influenced you in making this record?

CL:  I actually did myself a favor because, like my old band Chameleon, I am a little bit of a chameleon myself.  Because I have sung in so many different types of Shows, I have had to put on my "rock" hat, my "pop" hat, etc.  I can emulate different genres. But for this record, I really shut out music for a minute.   Without judgment or criticism, I wrote things from a place where maybe no one would ever hear these and they would be purely for myself to find out what my organic voice and authentic voice was saying without any outside influences.

DR:  You have been very up front with letting listeners know that this album was the result of you going through a major breakup. When did you know that you wanted to express what you were going through in song?

CL:  It was more or less an accident.  When I split with my ex, it was a huge life change. I felt that life was just going to carry on and be fine, but the ramifications of all of the decisions I was making - it was just a lot all at once.  I didn't know how to process it.  Also, professionally, I was going through a lot of changes and not knowing what the next step was.  I started writing as a form of venting and what came out was a "word vomit" of everything that I was going through.  It was really an organic thing, as I was going through all of these emotions which were almost like the stages of grief. It wasn't planned, it didn't happen until it was sitting right in front of me. 

DR:  You have toured or recorded with some substantial acts, but always singing songs someone else wrote. You had your own band, but even those releases were more collaborative in nature. You only get one debut album. How scary was this? Did you feel ready?

CL:  It is still scary because we're in the beginning stages of getting people to connect with the record. It is such a different market now.  The record business has changed so much from when I started at twelve years old.  I have made several solo records over the years that never saw the light of day for a million and one reasons.  I felt very proud that I was able to do this record by myself and write it with no judgment.  It was really a personal self-accomplishment and I got to the point where I was feeling like, "OK, I am ready to share this with the world" and ready to share my story.  It was scary but easy at the same time.  I am really excited to see the impression of it, to see what's next.

DR:  Your ex is someone that you did work with very closely in two of your musical worlds, but his name never comes up in interviews.  Is that by design?

CL:  Outside of our TSO and Chameleon family, listeners don't know and don't need to know.  I wanted to leave his name out of it.  For those that know, they know.  For those that don't, albums are meant to be related to your life.  If I bring up name and details, it takes away from the listener's point of view.  The record is specific to me, but generic enough where it can relate to you.

DR:  Both lyrically and visually, can I ask how specific you got with what you went through?

CL:  I've taken some liberties with the record and with the videos. It is a story and it's dramatized for sure. The honesty behind the intention is 100%. No mistaking the accuracy there but like all story-tellers, you take liberties to connect the dots. There are certainly situations that are hinted at that might be true, but they might not. Listeners can decide what they want there.

DR:   In early 2018, you released a stunning rendition of the Roy Orbison classic “Crying” which segued into “How Could You”. “How Could You” kicks off the album, but what happened to “Crying”?

CL:  We left that specifically for Pledge supporters.  Everyone that pledged had access to the song and it was an enticement for those supporters.  We did leave it on YouTube though if you still want to check it out.

DR:  The album is set up in a unique fashion, with complete songs, but interspersed with a series of musical interludes: Betrayal, Denial, Letting Go, Reflection, Acceptance, and Forgiveness. Just looking at those Interlude titles can give someone a quick idea of the album's theme, but what made you set it up this way?

CL:  I have always loved records that had interludes or had a constant stream of music that never ended and told a story.  It's funny that we're listening to Janet Jackson right now [Ed. Note - a Janet Jackson song happened to be playing in the background at this time] because I listened to her records when I was growing up and she was known for having these interludes between her songs.  I always really liked that.  I also wanted the listener to engage more with the storyline of the record with my versions of the stages of grief. I felt that they helped further the story as the interludes helped set up the emotion for the song.

DR: Were any of these interludes conceived as entire songs?

CL:  No,  I sat down one week and wrote all of these 20-30 second little songs.  "Reflection Interlude" is a little piece of "Something in the Water", which is a Chameleon song, and that is on purpose.  One that seems to be getting  a lot of notice and listeners seem to like is "Acceptance Interlude".  That one is more of a verse/chorus set-up and I have heard from some of who wanted me to "finish" that song.  Maybe my next record will be of all of my Interludes completed. [Laughs]

DR:  What was the first song written for this album?

CL:  The first work I did for this album was "Don't Let Yourself Down".  In the very beginning of my split, my move to Brooklyn and all of this change, I was just in a daze and crying a lot.  I went on a family vacation and I think my mom got sick and tired of all of my crying.  One day she said to me, "Honey, don't let yourself down".  Besides being great advice, that really hit me because I had never heard that before.  I sat down at my Aunt and Uncle's piano in North Carolina and wrote the chorus to that song.  I then put it away for a long time because I didn't know how to finish it.  The first complete full song that I wrote for this album was "Shiny Toy". I wrote that while I was in Prague for a gig.  I walked around Prague and it all came together for me there.

DR:  I would like to touch on the songs on the album, so let's start with "Shiny Toy". You’ve mentioned that this song is about seeing your ex with the new “shiny toy” in his life. It’s a very powerful song to really kick off the album – asking in the chorus “Did I mean nothing at all, Did We mean nothing at all?” How hard was it to write that song?

CL:  That one was actually really easy to write because it was very circumstantial to me and what just happened to me. It is not just about seeing my ex with his new "shiny toy", but more about the feeling of being replaced so quickly and so easily. That was more of the underlying layer of the song.  Ex's are supposed to move on and move forward, so there was nothing that he did wrong,  but the quickness and swiftness of the situation is what really got to me. I created the track and just vented; here are the words.

DR:  One of my favorite lyrics from this album comes from this song: "If happiness is just a smile, but you never walk a mile, then love means nothing to you". Very poetic, but it says so much.

CL:  I have to actually give some credit to my ex for that.  That is one of his favorite lines that he used to say, and we even used it in a Chameleon song, "Everybody's Going Down".  I sing "Happiness takes a while" on that one, but he originally wanted me to sing [Chloe sings "Happiness is just a smile"].  He and I debated that line though, because happiness is not just a smile; you have to work for happiness, happiness is a choice. So that lyric in "Shiny Toy", while it is mine, I twisted it a bit.

DR:  “Renegade”, musically is a song that is very upbeat – a good “sing-along” chorus – but it’s really all about your ex and his renegade-type lifestyle?

CL:  My ex is a very free spirit, which is one the things that I really loved about him. Down the line, it just didn't fit with my life anymore.  It's not about control, but more about making sense of someone's choices.  It just wasn't working for me.  It was like, "OK, there ya go again!"

DR:  There is a line in the song “Something in the water we thought brought us together now undone”. Is that a nod towards your previous band that had a song with that title?

CL:  [Laughs]  Everything that you can probably think, just go with it.

DR:   "Giving up on You" is a duet between you and vocalist Nathan James.  Did you write this with a duet in mind?

CL:  No. I wrote this by myself on the piano - just the melody and bass line.  I knew I wanted to do a duet on the record and Nathan was always in the back of my brain.  When I got the first draft back from my producer, Travis Laws, it just felt like this might be a good opportunity for a duet.  I restructured it and changed some of lyrics, so it made sense for a second voice to sing.

DR:  “Crazy” kicks off what feels like the second half of the album. This song feels like it is about dealing with things and moving on.

CL:  You are totally correct.  Some have said that this record feels heavy or really sad. You have to listen to the whole thing, and it is a fun party at the end of it.

DR:  The video for this is particularly clever, with you and your significant other backstage at a venue, reliving the same scene every couple of years, showing how the relationship was at each point.  Having seen you perform at so many clubs around the city over the years, was this based on a particular venue in your mind?

CL:  We struggled with what was the best thing to convey with that video.  The Digital Sparks team and I were in Charlotte at the time and we had come up with a few different ideas and this is the one that really stuck. They found a venue in Charlotte to use for the shoot, but it is very much like an Arlene's Grocery or Rockwood Music Hall.

DR:  This song features a guitar solo near the end of it by Al Pitrelli. It is one of two songs that he contributed guitar to on the record. He has also been involved in most of your live solo performances thus far. How did you get Al involved?

CL:  I'm really lucky.  I have a special relationship with Al.  We've been great friends since we met in 2010 and have always checked in with each other over the years.  There is a mutual admiration for talent there, but we also have this great working relationship and we're friends. With TSO, I am the Dance Captain for the West tour, so I handle the dancing and some of the singing. He calls on me a lot in that capacity. He has always said to me, "If you ever do anything, let me know." so I took him up on it.  I have a lot of great guitarist friends, so don't get me wrong, but Al plays with soul and heart and so much artistry behind his playing.  He came in and played on two songs and I have been lucky that he has been there for me at my live performances so far.

DR:  You did a unique cover of Roxette’s "It Must Have Been Love". What made you want to cover this?

CL: I knew I wanted to do a cover but hadn't found one yet that made sense. I was halfway done the record while I was on a TSO tour and I was listening to songs with [vocalist] Ashley Hollister and we were listening to some of the 80s and 90s songs and "It Must Have Been Love" came on. We started talking about why no one has covered it before. Vocally, it is really high, but you can forget about that because of the poppiness of the track. I knew I didn't want to do it the way that Roxette did it; I wanted my own interpretation.

DR: I want to call out the production of Aurelien Budynek here.  Not only did he contribute some tasty slide guitar passages, he really created such a subdued atmosphere that really changes the feel of the original song.

CL:  Aurelien killed it on this one.  He really did.  Aurelien has a really great ear and is one of my other favorite guitarists.  He also knows how to create a mood or atmosphere in a song. He is also the one who played on "Crying". For this one, he came back with this amazing guitar arrangement and added a string track.  Asha Mevlana came over and recorded the violin and viola and it was done in a day.

DR: "Dirty Disco" is a fun, upbeat song that has a bit of feel to your previous band.

CL:  We actually wrote this when we were in South Carolina and writing songs for Chameleon.  This was one of the fun tracks that we came up with and I have always loved it. With all of the band members in Chameleon, we just couldn't get it right. It just never felt right for that band.  I told Travis that I wanted to do it and we collaborated with Georgios Pesios, who mixed part of the album.  I love this song and it is a bit of a departure from the heaviness of the early part of the album.

DR:  “Don’t Let Yourself Down” is a song we touched on earlier.  It has that big epic-feeling song of the album, puts me in the mind of Chameleon songs like "Up There" and "Stay/Wait". I find your voice to really be suited to songs like that, where there is a quiet, tender introduction to the song that builds into something really loud and powerful. Do you feel the same way?

CL:  My whole platform is that I am a big singer and I sing emotionally about emotional topics. I am one of those artists where you are supposed to feel things. I think that is just my gift and is something that I do even with TSO and Rocktopia.  I totally gravitate to the more intimate songs where there is a conversation happening and by the end I am soaring and showing my range.

DR:  The closing song on the album, "The Words you Wanted", feels like you have come out the other side, moved past all of the heartbreak feelings and come to terms with the where things are now.  You refer to "All these damn songs I had to write". Were these the words you wanted to say to him but couldn’t? "We both got what we need to breathe, I found myself and set you free" – looks at things differently than earlier in the album.

CL:  My ex had sent me the guitar track to when I was on tour with Rocktopia a couple years ago and we were still writing back and forth. I actually wrote a completely different song on top of that guitar riff.  I then put it away and didn't think about it again.  When I was creating this album, I was going through some of my older songs for some ideas for the album's closer and came across this track.  I completely re-wrote the lyrics for it but left the guitar parts intact.  The subject matter came from a conversation that I had with my ex.  When he heard that I was making a record about him, he said instead of being mad, why not say the things that you always wanted to say?  This was much later after I had come to terms with things and there was some closure.  It is inspired by him and that conversation.  The guitar parts are still his and left just as he recorded them in The Red Room, probably two years before I finished it.

DR:  Over the years, you have sung so many songs written by others in various touring productions and shows, all of which come with a certain amount of direction. You do work with a producer on this record, but was it hard to find your own voice? To say, “this is me”?

CL:  It is both a blessing and a curse that I can sing in so many styles.  Going through this forced me to stand on my own and speak honestly and what came out is very authentically me without someone telling me, "you should do this, you should do that". Travis was the greatest producer and collaborator for that.  I would hand him the basic tracks and his production just really complemented what I was creating.

DR:  You have made a music video for each song and interlude for the album.  Where did that idea come from?

CL:  The industry is so weird.  It is so challenging to find ways to get people to sit down and listen to music these days.  I thought it was a good way of getting people to sit down and listen to the album if there was a visual element to it. I'm one of those people who will tend to stick with a song or album longer if there is a video to it.  It was a marketing plan that would help get people to listen to the album and listen to the story. It is a concept record and you really need to listen to it from top to bottom to understand it all.

DR:  Some of these videos puts you alone in these big empty scenes – a forest, an empty parking garage, a spacious empty meadow – is that done intentionally to help convey how you were feeling?

CL:  I never even realized that until you just said that. There may have been a subconscious reason for that.  For this record, I was alone.  I wrote 90% of it alone in my apartment and was on my own for the first time, which is why my hashtag is 'justchloe'.  It was always Chloe with Yanni, Chloe with TSO, Chloe with Rocktopia, Chloe with Chameleon.  Now it was "just Chloe".  I think the team at Digital Sparks studios understood that and shows the struggle to find answers, clarity and the struggle of being alone.

DR:  I want to ask about the musicians on the album. You certainly seemed to surround yourself with players not only from your previous band Chameleon, but also from the productions that you tour with, Rocktopia and TSO. Was this a matter of just calling someone up if they were available to fill a need on the album? Was there anyone you wanted on the record that wasn’t available?

CL:  I'm really lucky to have really great friends and have developed really great relationships, especially with my TSO family. I do like collaborating and I wanted my friend's input on what I had written for this album.  From Chameleon, I had Aurelien Budynek, Georgios Pesios, and Andrew Ross contribute.  Everyone was shocked that Andrew was on the record, but he came in and added some percussion and backing vocals on "The Words You Wanted".  From TSO, I had Asha, Jodi Katz, Al and Nathan of course.  I actually had another interlude where Ashley Hollister and Natalya Piette sang, but unfortunately it didn't make sense with the record, so it got scrapped. And of course, Travis Laws who I got to know from Rocktopia was just amazing as a producer.  I even got involved playing some synths and keys, which I was very excited about.

DR:  As part of your crowdfunding campaign, you offered up the opportunity to record a cover song for fans. Did you get many takers on this? And what sort of covers did you wind up singing? Any that were a favorite or fun?

CL:  Yes!  I forget about how many we did, but that was a popular item!  Georgios Pesios and I sat down for a couple days and did acoustic versions of all the songs. He played guitar and mixed them. It was a wide range from Pat Benatar to some classic rock songs.  I did "Painkiller" from Judas Priest! [Laughs]  It was fun, it was great to put my spin on some of these.

DR:  Thus far, you have done release concerts in Florida and NYC, opened up for Myles Kennedy, and done some of these songs at a music festival in upstate PA. How much fun is it to sing these creations to fans in person? It seems like there would be a difference between writing a song in your apartment and recording it in a studio and then singing how you were feeling to a crowd full of people.

(L-R): Al Pitrelli, Chloe Lowery, Travis Laws
Rockwood Music Hall, April 2019
Photo courtesy Bill Passannante
CL:  It's exciting. As an artist, our job is to touch people and relate to people and help people. When people respond well or sing back words that you wrote, that is so rewarding.  We are building our whole live thing.

DR:  Back in the 70’s, you would have a record label behind you which pushed an artist's music to the stores and radio. In the 80’s, there was MTV which helped put artists on the map. How difficult is it in today’s industry to establish yourself as a name or a brand? Is it more social media and networking?

CL:  It's really all about connecting. Whether it is getting a song into a movie or TV show, or building your social media following.  Social media is obviously a big part of things now.  There are artists that are launching careers just off of Instagram. I find that cool and strange at the same time because it is hard for real talent to shine through. The market is just completely flooded.  You just have to find your way of connecting that works for you. With me, people seem to like to see what I can do when I perform live.  That is a priority for me to get on the road, which is all in the works.

DR:  Good to hear that there may be some touring coming up.  Anything else in the works?

CL:  We still have several videos to release.  The "Must Have Been Love" video is next and you guys will like it for a specific reason, but I won't say what it is yet.  The "Dirty Disco" video is also very exciting with everything going on with Pride Month. Something else that is in the works is a virtual live show for everyone that can't get out to the live shows.

DR:  For the fans of your previous band, is there any chance of hearing any of those songs again?  Maybe in a live setting?

CL:  Those songs are all still mean so much to me.  My producer was a really big fan of "Up There" and we tried to revisit it production-wise and make it more something catering to me, but it fell by the wayside.  Maybe I will revisit one of those songs live? My ex and I were a good writing team and I would like to work with him in that capacity again, so you never know.

DR: You have been involved in two touring productions over the last decade – Rocktopia and TSO. Do you still enjoy doing those Shows and do you plan on continue fitting them into your schedule as long as they still want you?

CL:  TSO is such a blessing.  I didn't quite understand what I was getting into when I did my first tour.  I thought it might just be one tour and done. They have really become my family and I think that was Paul's gift.  As long as TSO will have me, I want to be there.  We are always complaining towards the end of those tours about how exhausted we are, and we want to go home, but we always look forward to it starting up each year.

DR:  Chloe, thanks for getting together today and finding the time.

CL:  Thank you!  It's always a pleasure.

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